- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 25, 2003

A certain 12-year-old has decided it’s time to send Kurt Warner to the closet. Not only do quarterbacks get benched, so do their jerseys.

Like football itself, the sports apparel business can be a cruel and fickle game.

And December is the cruelest month. Teams make the playoffs without their former heroes, while, at the same time, gifts are being purchased. This confluence of events is significant.

The blue, No.13 St. Louis Rams jersey was itself a gift, given at the height of Warner’s glory. It wasn’t that long ago (although it seems like it was) that Warner was the top quarterback in the NFL, leading the Rams to two Super Bowls. It was a great story — the shelf-stocking, Arena ball-playing reject who went on to become the highest-rated passer in league history.

But even though the Rams are again headed to the postseason, a lot has changed. Warner now stands on the sideline, wearing a headset, offering counsel to his replacement, Marc Bulger. Accordingly, the shirt has become yesterday’s laundry. It now joins the Randy Moss Vikings jersey and the Jake Plummer Cardinals jersey, both of which also outlived their usefulness.

The Plummer shirt was purchased mainly because of local ties. The 12-year-old was 7 at the time, recently moved from Arizona, but he felt the tug of home-state loyalty. And the red and white No.16 looked good on the rack. But once it was worn, it lost its appeal. Something was missing. To be honest, it just didn’t live up to expectations. (Wearers of Plummer’s new Denver Broncos jersey seem much happier). Also, it got messed up in the dryer.

Before that, the Randy Moss jersey simply had worn thin.

Anyway, the Warner jersey enjoyed some triumphs, but it also endured hardships, such as his injuries and his bossy wife. Acquired after the Rams’ Super Bowl victory over Tennessee, it was there through the disappointing 2000 season, the resurgence in 2001 and last year’s decline. It agonized when Adam Vinatieri kicked the New England Patriots past the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI and cringed when Warner fumbled six times and was knocked goofy in the opener against the New York Giants this season.

Right then, it became clear the jersey was on its final threads. Warner hasn’t played since. Bulger took over like last year, except this time for good. With Warner benched, the jersey became the subject of taunts and insults. Clipboard holder! Pine-rider! And then when the coach asks you to go into the game, you refuse?

Clearly, the Warner jersey had to go. But not just because of the slurs. The fact is, unlike people with the disposable income and/or misguided priorities necessary to build a vast jersey collection, this is a one-jersey owner. So whichever jersey it was, it had to count. It had to stand for something more than past glory. It had to stand for present-day accomplishment. Sorry, Kurt.

So who would it be?

This would not be a casual, hasty decision. Being the singular jersey entails a lot of pressure. It is “the man” of the wardrobe. It must go with everything and be suitable for every occasion. There’s no switching to a Brett Favre for a trip to the mall or a Jim Brown throwback for a formal dinner. It must represent a player who is not only an important part of the team, but someone who is tough and aggressive and mainly, who won’t find his butt parked on the bench anytime soon.

Since defense wins championships, at least according to the people on TV, it can now be revealed that replacing Kurt Warner will be the jersey of Rams safety Adam Archuleta, No.1 in your heart, No.31 on your back. Archuleta is a deadly tackler and a dangerous blitzer with the ability to cover both wide receivers and tight ends. He is young and just starting to come into his own. In short, he is everything you want in a jersey.

Congratulations, Adam. You have been given a unique responsibility. There is no doubt you can live up to it.

You’d better. These things aren’t cheap.

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